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UF/IFAS Experts Explore Multiple Strategies to Control New Palm Disease

Home and business owners should use an antibiotic to help limit a new disease threatening certain species of Florida palm trees, a University of Florida scientist says.

Lethal bronzing is killing palm species known as Sabal palmetto (sabal or cabbage palms), Phoenix sylvestris (silver date palms), Phoenix dactylifera (date palms) and Phoenix canariensis (true date palms), said Brian Bahder, an entomology assistant professor with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“It is killing our state tree, which is native and important for the environment,” Bahder said.

In addition to helping the environment, palm trees also enhance Florida’s economy. About $84 million worth of palms grown in the Sunshine State were sold in 2015, a UF/IFAS study found.

While lethal yellowing still damages some Florida palm trees, the deaths caused by lethal bronzing are now capturing scientists’ attention, Bahder said. Once they’ve been infected, palm trees cannot recover from lethal bronzing.

To combat the disease, Bahder says property owners should use an antibiotic called oxytetracycline on healthy trees so the disease doesn’t spread to them. They’re conducting studies on antibiotic injections to be able to provide better injection recommendations.

Meanwhile, home and business owners should cut down and get rid of diseased palm trees, said Bahder, a faculty member with the UF/IFAS Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. Bahder suggests cutting down your diseased trees with a chainsaw, then cutting them into manageable pieces for bulk pickup.

There’s no danger of it spreading, he said.

Scientists are trying to find the insect that transmits lethal bronzing to the trees. Bahder and his research team have been surveying symptomatic palms for about a year and so far, they’ve narrowed the list to two potential insects as possible conveyors of lethal bronzing.

Meanwhile, scientists have developed high-resolution extraction and detection techniques to find the disease, Bahder said. They use various methods, including digital DNA amplification technology to find the bacteria that produces the lethal bronzing at lower levels.

It’s important to follow UF/IFAS recommendations regarding lethal bronzing, he said.

“I can’t stop the disease by myself,” Bahder said. “I rely on my stakeholders to work with me to implement the changes we feel are best, based on our research. They are my boots on the ground, so to speak.”

Those who think they have diseased trees can contact Bahder at bbahder@ufl.edu.


The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.eduand follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.